This is not “The Fred Price Show,” however. No organ or choir back him up. No theatrics accompany his exposition. There’s no one on the platform to stand and wave a hanky when he waxes especially eloquent. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, CCC has its share of celebrities—TV announcer Ed McMahon, R & B artist Mary J. Blige, Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks. But nobody expects “the celebrity treatment” at Price’s church.
“If you’re a celebrity and you just want to be seen on the front pew in a church,” he explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today, “the best thing to do is not to come here.”
After more than 50 years of ministry, Price’s method and message are essentially the same they were nearly 35 years ago, when he was introduced to the baptism with the Holy Spirit and came to embrace the teachings of the Word-Faith movement. Still, Price has an inquisitive nature that leads him to implement new models of ministry and risk his staid reputation for the sake of reaching people different from himself.
In fact, every fifth Sunday morning, he trades in his jacket and tie for a baggy warm-up suit and joins his son Frederick Jr. on the stage for Hip-Hop Sunday, an event targeting young people and featuring rap music and high-energy preaching—all aimed at reaching unchurched youth and bridging the cultural gap between parents and their kids.
When Price enters a room full of people, he tends to attract attention, walking with a lively gait that belies his age. In his spacious office, photos of CCC in its various stages of growth cover the walls, along with mementos from friends and family. From the books neatly filed on the bookcase, to the folders orderly arranged on his credenza, it is clear that Fred Price is a man who appreciates discipline, structure and attention to detail.
“When I read the first chapter of Genesis, I see that God is a God of order,” he explains as he sits down in the chair behind his mammoth desk. “That’s what I’ve tried to emulate in my ministry—in everything we do here.”
Today he may look like the picture of success, but Price always begins his life story describing the humble circumstances of his childhood in a segregated community and early years in ministry characterized by debt, illness and professional frustration.
FROM STRUGGLE TO SUCCESS
Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1932, Price was reared in a nominal Jehovah’s Witnesses family and accepted Christ in 1953. When he and his wife, Betty, joined a local Baptist church, it was the custom of the minister to ask each person who came forward for membership what they wanted to “do for the Lord.” Before the pastor reached him, Price heard the audible voice of God speak into his left ear, “You are to preach My gospel.”
His first years in ministry were anything but glamorous, as he performed menial tasks for the minister and only seldom had an opportunity to preach. During these years Price supported himself and his growing family by selling magazines and working in a paper factory and a Coca-Cola bottling plant—always “owing his soul to the company store.”
In the years that followed his call to ministry, Price served churches in several denominations—Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian. In 1965, he became pastor of a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church that had shriveled to nine members. Four years later, the church had grown to 125, and Price was able to quit his secular employment.
Although he was convinced of his call to ministry, he grew increasingly frustrated with an anemic version of Christianity in which prayers weren’t answered, believers suffered from illness and poverty … and nobody seemed to have a problem with it.
Then, a friend gave Price several books by charismatic authors who awakened him to the “missing ingredient” in his life, and Price subsequently received the baptism with the Holy Spirit in 1970. But it was Authority of the Believer, by Kenneth Hagin Sr., that revolutionized this 38-year-old pastor and introduced him to the principles that have become the core of his ministry.
Soon after, his fledgling congregation of 125 ballooned to 300, and the church became independent of the CMA, purchasing a 1,200-seat sanctuary for $750,000.
“In 1973 God began to deal with me about leaving the denomination and forming an independent-dependent work,” Price says, describing the departure from the denomination. “Independent of man and dependent on God.”
With the move, the church changed its name to Crenshaw Christian Center, and by 1977, the congregation had outgrown the facility (with two services every Sunday) and was looking for land on which to build.
Now celebrating more than 50 years of ministry, Price leads a still-growing congregation based on the 32-acre campus in south central L.A.—land that CCC bought from Pepperdine University in 1981 when the school moved to Malibu. The $14-million property and the $10-million sanctuary the church built there were paid off within six years of moving in.
Price heads a staff of 11 pastors and 235 employees that work in the church’s diverse ministries: a preschool, elementary, middle and high school; 16 helps ministries with approximately 2,500 volunteers; and Ever Increasing Faith, the TV outreach Price founded in 1978 that now reaches more than 15 million households.
In 1990, Price launched the Fellowship of Inner-City Word of Faith Ministries (FICWFM), a ministerial network connecting nearly 500 pastors globally.
In 2001, CCC planted a satellite campus in midtown Manhattan (Crenshaw Christian Center East), now led by Allen Landry, a former assistant pastor at CCC. Price still travels one weekend a month to preach and teach at the church, which now runs more than 1,000 people.
His congregants aren’t the only ones drawn to Price’s success. His accolades include honorary degrees from Rhema Bible Training Center and Oral Roberts University, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award and the Kelly Miller Smith Interfaith Award, presented by the Southern Leadership Conference.
But Price traces his success not to gimmicks or pop theology, but to a strict obedience to the “assignment” God gave him.
“Most ministers just want to carbon-copy what somebody else is doing,” he observes. “My real definition of success is fulfilling what God called me to do—fulfilling my assignment.”
THE FAMILY MAN
Now grown, all four of Fred Price’s children are on staff at the ministry: Angela Evans is the chief operating officer of CCC and Ever Increasing Faith; Cheryl Price serves on the staff of FICWFM; and Stephanie Buchanan is on staff at CCC. The youngest child, Frederick K. Price Jr., serves as an assistant pastor and is the heir-apparent to the CCC pulpit.
Known as a family man, Price often reminds his congregation, “God created the family before He created the church—so family is always going to be more important to me.” The Price children have warm memories of family vacations and trips to the nearby ocean and mountains—and his constant presence in the home.
“He’s an awesome role model,” says Angela, 48, who is self-described as “the rebellious one in my teens” but who has now worked closely with her father for 30 years. “What you see on-screen and his public persona is the same as what he is at home—the integrity of the man is intact at all times.”
She describes the unshakable faith her father modeled when her older brother was hit by a car and killed in 1962. After Price embraced Word-Faith teachings, he began to see God restore what Satan had stolen from him early in his life. But even he was surprised when Betty became pregnant at the age of 45, and Kenneth Hagin Sr. prophesied that the child would be a boy—God’s restoration of the son that had been lost nearly two decades earlier.
Now 26, Frederick K. Price Jr. is being groomed to lead the church when his father retires. However, “Pastor Freddy,” as he is known, says that his was a call from God—not from Mom and Dad.
“Even though Kenneth Hagin told my parents that I would follow my dad in ministry, they allowed me to hear the call for myself,” he explains. “They never once put pressure on me—or even mentioned it.”
The younger Price says he got his imagination, competitiveness and curiosity from his father—a man who relishes sci-fi movies, reads at least one book a week and is always up for a game of Scrabble or Uno.
“People get the idea that my father’s all buttoned-down and doesn’t have any fun,” Fred Jr. says. “But he loves to have fun; he’s got a great imagination—and that’s what helped me become the person I am today.”
In recent years—and since the death of Kenneth Hagin Sr. in 2003—Price has become a major spokesperson for the Word-Faith movement.
Price’s critics (e.g. Christianity in Crisis author Hank Hanegraaff and A Different Gospel author D.R. McConnell) accuse him of propagating a doctrine of health and wealth. But he has remained firm in his belief that Christians should be physically whole, financially blessed and free of suffering—a theology some opponents say doesn’t ring true in a world in which the most vibrant sectors of Christendom are often its most impoverished and persecuted.
Pentecostals and charismatics have sometimes been reluctant to embrace the core of Word-Faith teachings—in spite of the fact that its key leaders often came from traditional Pentecostal denominations. However, Price argues that the renewal provided a fertile ground for what he believes is a deeper revelation of something that God intended for the church all along.
“The Holy Spirit brought this teaching to the fore—out from under the denominationalism, traditionalism and theology,” he explains. “And we realized that it was the key to everything.”
He says that those who considered the Word-Faith a mere movement, rather than “a revelation of the way the system works,” have long since left for greener pastures.
“They got caught up in the illustrations that we used to apply its principles,” he explains. “They tried it for a season, and when they didn’t get the big car, yacht and jewelry, they gave up.”
Prosperity, Price contends, is just the natural byproduct of a life of faith—and its purpose is not primarily for personal benefit. “A lot of teachers have been teaching prosperity for prosperity’s sake,” he notes. “It’s not wrong, but it’s not enough. Deuteronomy 8:18 reveals the true purpose of prosperity: ‘Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.’”
Price is transparent about his own affluence-—the Bentley parked outside his office, his ministry’s private jet. “Wealth is for the purpose of establishing His covenant,” he says. “Now in the process of doing that … the crumbs that fall from the table will be the yacht, the clothes, the jewelry and the cars—I don’t have to seek after these things.”
What Price is less likely to talk about is his generosity. His son, Fred Jr., notes that his father gave away more than $1 million of his own money in 2004. “I wish the guys that criticize him could see that side of him,” he says. “I’ve seen what he sows into the kingdom.”
For Price, money is not an end in itself, but a means. His financial success is proof that the message he preaches can be applied in the real world. Price believes that it is especially important for blacks to see that the principles of prosperity transcend economic and racial differences.
“I want them to know that this works,” he explains. “It works for someone black and in the ghetto. So don’t let that any longer be your excuse for not succeeding.”
And what if he doesn’t see people in the pews prospering financially and enjoying health?
“That would be a problem of monumental proportions, but I haven’t seen that,” he says, citing the peace of mind, family stability and prosperity that he contends results from a lifestyle of faith.
Eldrena Hanna was a single mother, when she moved to Los Angeles from Florida in 1985. An unsaved friend recommended she visit CCC. “The preacher’s comical—you’ll enjoy listening to him,” her friend said. Hanna began attending, became a member and within two years was serving in the helps ministry at the church.
After applying the principles she learned from Price, she overcame the trials of a major surgery, bought a home—in Southern California, no less—and was promoted in her job. Currently, a stock broker for Merrill Lynch, Hanna credits her success and spiritual maturity to the consistent teaching of the Word she has received at CCC.
“Dr. Price taught me that it’s not just about monetary prosperity. It’s about studying the Word and applying it every day,” she explains. “He is a role model—but these principles don’t just work for him—they work for everybody.”
FAITH IS A VERB
While critics quibble over hermeneutical nuances, at the core of Price’s theology is a view of Scripture itself that accepts the text on its face value.
“Scriptures in the Bible on healing and prosperity require no interpretation—they are what they are,” he argues. “You don’t have to interpret them.”
This confidence is what is appealing to many of Price’s followers. In fact, he is convinced that belief in the Word, verbal confession of its promises and obedience to its commands constitute a legitimate formula for prosperity and health that “works like a charm.”
“Like money in the secular world, faith is the currency that makes everything work in the kingdom of God,” he explains. “Faith is what drives it. The more faith you have, the more things you can do—good things for people.”
Word-Faith critics have often claimed that the movement’s adherents view faith as a “force” that a believer can tap into to receive whatever he or she desires. Price says this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Faith is acting on the known will of God,” he explains. “I believe I can pick up the phone and talk to anyone, but it won’t happen if I don’t pick up the phone. Faith is following through with what you believe.”
This perspective shapes every decision in Price’s life. He’s not a man of contemplation, but of action, frequently describing instances in which God told him to do something—and he obeyed. From the location and name of the church to the cities in which his TV ministry was first broadcast, every major decision Price has made has been a result of following through with an “assignment” he believes God has given him.
“Learn how to walk by faith, not by sight,” he says. “That’s the motto of my life.”
For Price, it’s all about saying what God wants him to say—the way God wants him to say it. “God said to me: ‘Don’t preach. Teach what I’ve taught you,’” he recalls. “One of these days, when nobody shows up for church, I’ll know it’s time for me to go golfing. Until then, I’m gonna keep on doing what I’m doing the way I’m doing it.”
For years, Price has been busy doing just that. In fact, his policy has been not to respond to his critics’ offensive statements—even when he’s misrepresented.
“Most of the time I am misrepresented,” he says with a smile. “But I don’t engage them. I can’t change their minds anyway.”
Not that he’s afraid to take a stand. One incident in the 1990s—when a prominent white leader advised against interracial marriage and dating—caused Price to speak out, and it reshaped his ministry.
Several years ago, he was given a cassette containing a message given by a pastor who recounted an incident in which he found one of his children playing with a black friend. The pastor told his child: “We play. We go together as a group, but we do not date one another.”
Although horrified by what he heard, Price says he decided “not to rock the boat” out of concern for his relationship with the leader’s ministry.
“The Spirit of God began to deal with me about it,” he recalls. “When you put it all together, it was racial and ethnic prejudice involved.”
He confronted the leader, and, although an apology was issued, Price believed the apology should have been a retraction.
“Bottom line,” he says. “Since then, there has been no resolution to the problem.”
This event prompted Price to engage in an intensive study on racism in America and the church—culminating in a yearlong series that he preached at CCC and a three-volume book titled Race, Religion & Racism. Price contends that the church is still suffering from a subtle prejudice that says, Whites are the leaders and blacks are the followers.
Although Price is highly concerned by racism, in his trademark level-headed demeanor and passion for getting to the root of the problem, he’s more irritated by the church climate that allows such behavior than he is the individuals who perpetrate it. In an April 1998 article in Charisma magazine, Price is quoted as saying: “I’m not angry at any individual, and I’m not angry at any group of people. I’m angry that the church hasn’t done anything about the situation of racism.”
NO DEFENSE NECESSARY
Price doesn’t have much time for the term Word-Faith “movement”: “That’s the terminology critics use,” he contends. “This has been around since the apostle Paul—there’s nothing new about it.”
This stubborn stability is what was so attractive to Price’s right hand man, administrative pastor Craig Hays. He joined CCC in 1976, became a deacon and then came on staff at the church in 1987. Hays was called to ministry when he was a child, but never entered the pastorate because he was discouraged by what he saw as contradictions in the lives of church leaders.
“When I met Dr. Price, I found a man that stayed steadfast,” he explains. “He doesn’t have a church face and a home face—he is the one who taught me how to be consistent.”
These same sentiments are echoed by FICWFM member and El Paso, Texas, pastor Charles Nieman, who first heard Price’s teachings in the mid 1970s. For the last 28 years, he has led Abundant Living Faith Center, a congregation that has grown to 12,000—success Nieman has largely attributed to Price’s teachings. But what the Texas pastor most admires about his mentor is his consistency.
“With Dr. Price, what you see is what you get,” he says. “Their marriage is, was and continues to be an example to those in ministry. Many of his spiritual sons have said that they learned how to treat their wives by watching how he treats Betty—in fact, I’ve seen their wives stand up and thank Fred for that!”
Price recently stood with Betty through a bout with cancer that threatened her life. Some observers seized upon this misfortune as an opportunity to question Price’s theology. Price says that this wasn’t a failure of faith, but a case of cause and effect.
“I don’t believe in accidents. Everything is a result of something we either do, don’t do or do incorrectly,” he says.
Price teaches that choices and words play heavy in a person’s health and prosperity. Any negative situation can ultimately be traced to a misspoken word, misplaced belief or misapplied principle.
“My wife abused her body all of her life without knowing it,” he explains. “She was raised on eating certain types of food. She changed her lifestyle, but the tumor had already developed.”
The family stood firm together, believing that the cancer would not take Betty’s life, and she is alive and healthy today.
Price doesn’t have much time for people who blame their misfortunes on God … or the devil. In his theology, Satan is virtually powerless—but he uses instances of sin and ignorance to undermine the health, prosperity and spiritual growth of believers. “Satan can’t do anything on his own,” Price explains. “He’s an opportunist. He can only deal with what we give him.”
This personal responsibility is at the core of Price’s theology—a belief that God is limited or released by the words of His human creation. “The devil can’t do anything on his own any more than God the Father can do anything without our help,” Price teaches.
To some evangelicals who believe in the sovereignty of God, these are inflammatory words. But Price is careful to explain that he does not believe God is objectively limited. Instead, He limits Himself to interact with His creation—to authentically answer prayer.
“It’s not because He doesn’t have the power, but because He’s designed the system to work at the behest of our free wills,” Price explains. “People think that God does whatever He wants to arbitrarily. If that were true—we know God wants everybody saved—why doesn’t He save everybody? He can’t, unless we believe.”
When Price explains it this way, it sounds no different than the convictions of a large portion of Wesleyan evangelicals and traditional Pentecostals. Why doesn’t he rephrase his views to be more acceptable to his critics?
“I don’t respond to them,” Price says. “Truth will come out. Since I’m a channel, what I’ve been sharing is not my personal philosophy, but what I’ve learned from the Word of God and what I’ve applied in my own life. So I don’t have to defend it.”
Instead of defending himself, Price is too busy teaching his flock to stay on the offensive when it comes to the problems that other Christians tend to tolerate—whether they be sickness, poverty, racism or suffering.
“We suffer these things because we don’t know we don’t have to,” he says. “We accept them as part of life. We don’t resist it; we expect it.”
That might be true in some churches, but not at Crenshaw Christian Center—not if Fred Price has any say in the matter.
Clearly, the modern understanding of the First Amendment would never have given them birth. Yet the religious nature of their nation’s enemy, the moral crises of America’s soldiers, and the spiritual passions of the new generation at war may make them more essential to America’s military efforts today than ever before.
The inconsistencies do not stop there. They wear a uniform but cannot carry a weapon. They receive a check from the state to do the work of the church in a society deathly afraid of the mixture of church and state. They can preach God’s will for the individual soul but may not preach God’s will for the war. They are ordained by a single religious denomination to preach its truth but as chaplains must tend every possible religious persuasion.
The religious nature of their calling often works against them. If a chaplain is deployed with his National Guard unit, every man he serves is guaranteed a job to come home to. Yet if that chaplain was a pastor in a church when he was sent off to war, he is not guaranteed he can return to his job. The government he serves cannot pressure a church to employ that chaplain again. It is a violation of the separation of church and state.
He is supposed to tend to the needs of soldiers at war. Yet he is not supposed to get too close to the fighting. The military is concerned that if a chaplain accompanies soldiers into battle, the soldiers will be distracted from their mission out of concern for the safety of the chaplain, whom they often love and who is required to be unarmed. Yet the biggest complaint about chaplains from soldiers in the field is that they “don’t cross the wire with us, and so they don’t know how we feel.”
Then there is the chain of command. Pastors fighting with deacons and church boards is such a common occurrence back home that there are courses on the subject in seminaries. Yet a chaplain in the military can end up working for a commander who thinks all faith is silly or who views the particular religion of the chaplain as heresy.
One battalion commander was disciplined for calling his Catholic chaplain, a Major Pappas, by the nickname “Major Papist,” a denigrating reference to the myth that Catholics worship the pope. Another chaplain was told by his executive officer, “Be as religious as you want to be, but stay away from me and my troops.” Church fights at home pale in comparison to these pressures.
Adding to these contradictions and challenges are the “knuckleheads in clerical garb” who taint the image of the role. There is the overheated evangelist who offends more than he wins, the office rat who does ministry only behind a desk, the one the troops call “Captain Kangaroo” who hands out candy but nothing more as men go off to battle, the “cheerleader” whose every sermon sounds like a pitch from an Army recruiter, and the bulbous gourmand who couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test unless he hired someone to take it for him. Each of these leaves legacies for other chaplains to live down.
Yet despite the oddities and obstacles of their role, chaplains are often among the noblest figures in the field. There is the stunning bravery of a chaplain risking enemy fire to give last rites to a dying man. There are the highly decorated fighting men who have then gone on to seminary so they can return to the service and minister to men in arms. And there are the noble dead among the chaplains’ corps who lost their lives tending the warrior soul.
In fact, many of these chaplains are models of toughness. Colonel Gene Fowler was the head chaplain in Iraq through 2003, serving in the 3rd Corps. A slight, bespectacled man, Chaplain Fowler has nevertheless proven his steel on more than one occasion. While serving as a chaplain at a stateside post, a grizzled master sergeant once approached him, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, if you ain’t Airborne, you ain’t nothing.”
Refusing to let the challenge go unanswered and hating the thought that, once again, a clergyman should be viewed as a wimp, Chaplain Fowler went to Ranger school and became an honored member of the Airborne fraternity. Now he wears the Ranger tab and Airborne wings on his uniform, yet when he jumps from a plane, he does so without a weapon. He is there to fight battles of the spirit.
Chaplain Fowler and the hundreds of other chaplains who serve with him today stand in an honored tradition that reaches back through the centuries. The literature of the ancient world is filled with stories of priests leading the way in battle. It was a time when war was understood as a contest of gods. Sometimes the actual fighting would have to wait until each tribe’s priest had adequately insulted the other tribe’s god, for only then was it proper to attack.
Today, the American chaplains’ corps is as fine as the nation has ever put in the field. Each chaplain has joined the military voluntarily. Each is well educated. Most are deeply devoted to those they serve and now see their ministry in a post-9/11 world as a vital service to their nation and their God. In Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of chaplains subject themselves to life-threatening dangers.
Yet the military chaplain serves in a world that is religiously very different from the one that first defined his role. His job was conceived in an age of faith, at a time when the United States was largely Christian and understood its mission in religious terms.
Chaplains were charged with making sure that fighting men were pious and conducted themselves so as to assure God’s blessing on their efforts at war. A chaplain served his troops by defining their fight in spiritual terms, calling them to deeper faith, teaching them a valiant warrior code and tending their souls in moments of distress.
Today, the chaplain’s role is defined only in terms of the personal, the spiritual and the ceremonial. “I want to talk about how to fight like men and women of God,” one chaplain stationed in Iraq said, “but I feel like I can only pray at ceremonies, lead chapel services and counsel soldiers about their problems. Our nation is in a fight for its life, but I can’t stand as the priests did in the Bible and speak to the fight. It’s like I can only pray ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayers, when I want to pray, ‘Lord rise up against Your enemies’ prayers.”
This “separation of faith and fight,” as one chaplain styled it, is due to a number of factors. The first is military policy. In the Army regulations that define a chaplain’s role, it is clear that the personal spiritual life of a soldier is in view and not the spirituality of his life as a warrior. The chaplain is charged with meeting the “religious, spiritual, moral and ethical needs of the Army.”
Yet the chaplain is also described as a “noncombatant.” He is not allowed to carry arms, and it is clear that his job is essentially that of a civilian pastor in uniform. In fact, he is not even supposed to go near the fighting. Many chaplains strain at these restrictions and feel that they keep them from doing their jobs.
During the Coalition’s assault on Fallujah in 2004, one bold chaplain accompanied squads of Marines as they went door to door looking for insurgents. Though the chaplain was unarmed, he entered suspect homes with the Marines and constantly urged courage in their task by quoting scriptures and praying aloud. The warriors he tended loved him for putting himself in harm’s way and for sharing the dangers they endured.
When this story was reported in the newspapers back home, the chaplain was celebrated as a hero. Pastors mentioned his courageous faith in their sermons, and religious talk-show hosts lauded him on the air. Yet this chaplain was disciplined by his superiors for exposing himself to danger and potentially distracting the men he accompanied from their mission. He was “showboating,” his commanders said, and failing to do his job.
Privately, this chaplain said, “I was doing my job. What they want is religious window dressing and someone to keep the ceremonial circus up and running. I want to be a prophet to my Marines in the crucible of their lives. I’m no good to them if I don’t face what they face when they face it.” This forced distance from the fighting only compromises chaplains in the eyes of the young warriors they serve.
The generation fighting today’s wars are the youngest children of the generation that fought in Vietnam, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought in World War II. Most of them were born in the early 1980s, which means that the only wars they can remember outside of movies and books are the conflict in Kosovo and America’s brief but tragic involvement in Somalia made popular by the film Black Hawk Down. Called everything from Generation X to Millennials to Echo Boomers, they are as difficult to define as they are to name.
Millennial faith is already distrustful of tradition, authority and structure. This is primarily because all three of these seem irrelevant to spirituality as the typical Millennial perceives it. For Millennials at war, the fact that their chaplains cannot “cross the wire,” cannot know what they know about being under fire, only makes them even less trustworthy.
The 1544th Transportation Company is a unique example of Millennial faith because while their captain, Brandon Tackett, says he stays out of his soldier’s spiritual lives, many under his command are deeply religious. There is Jodi Rund, for example. Corporal Rund is blond, fresh faced and not hard to imagine as a campus head-turner.
Not long ago, she was a sociology major at the University of Illinois. She was called up when she had only one semester left and now finds herself in the thick of the Iraq war. And she is a good soldier. One of her colleagues described her as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare: a pretty woman who prays to Jesus and fights as well as any man.”
Jodi was raised Catholic and found a new interest in faith when she learned she was fighting for her country in the land of ancient Babylon. She yearned to know more about biblical history, and this brought her to Web sites that fed her spirit. She began to e-mail Christian friends at home about her faith. Soon she met other Christians in her company.
There was David Wetherell, for example, another University of Illinois student who was working on a finance degree when he was called up. Wetherell had “fallen away” from his Christian faith when he was first deployed, but the death of his sergeant on the first day he arrived, and his realization that he might die, moved him to “give my life to Jesus.”
Both Rund and Wetherell have nurtured vibrant spiritual lives in the face of war, but all without the aid of chaplains. Asked about the chaplains he knows, Wetherell replied, “Some are great and some stink, but none of them understand what soldiers go through in the field.” Rund reports that chaplains may have their place, but since they aren’t involved in the crux of battle, they are not really relevant.
“Services don’t help,” she insists. “Conventional, organized religion doesn’t meet our needs. I find that e-mails keep me strong and the psalms I put on my walls. Some of us get together before going out and pray. This is what keeps me going spiritually. Praying and surviving is the heart of my faith. But there isn’t a chaplain around at those times.”
Chaplains, then, are hindered by the policies that keep them from experiencing the stresses of soldiers, and by the distrust of authority and structure inherent in Millennial faith. They are also hindered by their own doubts about their roles, and this is often due to the shifting tides of respect for religion in American culture.
One chaplain, who asked not to be identified, explained that this uncertainty among the chaplains’ corps often arises because of the military’s response to legal pressures:
“Most of us want to talk about the things soldiers need to discuss: Is this war just? Is God on our side? Is killing in this war moral? Is Islam evil? Yet every time one of these legal cases comes along, everyone gets scared that if we do anything more than pray at ceremonies and hold chapel services, we will end up in trouble. I want to serve fighting men and women while they fight. I don’t want to make the sign of the cross from a safe distance. Something’s got to change.”
The legal cases this chaplain alludes to have indeed moved many to reconsider the chaplain’s role. The simple problem is that the military chaplaincy is caught in a time warp between modern forces of secularism and the faith of the founding era. Though it is clear that early Americans were largely Christian and wanted faith at the core of society, later generations have moved away from that founding faith and have begun to interpret the Constitution accordingly.
In 1971, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), that there are three conditions the government must meet in order not to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits an enforcement of religion by the state. The government’s action must: “(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.” Obviously, the military chaplaincy violates each one of these requirements.
This was a point not lost on two Harvard University law students in 1979. Building on the reasoning of Lemon v. Kurtzman, Joel Katcoff and Allen Wieder filed a lawsuit designed to challenge the constitutionality of the military chaplaincy. The suit claimed that state-financed chaplains are an establishment of religion and in violation of the First Amendment.
The case dragged on until January of 1986, and was finally dropped when Katcoff and Wieder ran out of money to fund an appeal. In Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (2d Cir. 1985), the court ruled that the military chaplaincy should remain in place to fulfill the constitutional guarantee that soldiers have freedom to exercise their religion.
The case raised serious fears, though. If two law students could nearly eradicate the military chaplaincy, the constitutional basis for the chaplains’ corps must be tenuous indeed. Moreover, the majority opinion in the case admitted that the chaplaincy was inconsistent with the three requirements in Lemon v. Kurtzman. How long would it be before judges in another case found the chaplaincy in violation of the law?
These matters loom large for military chaplains today. What they are deployed to do is under constant legal scrutiny. In 1972, a small number of cadets and midshipmen from the nation’s military academies joined together for a class action suit intended to ban compulsory chapel attendance. The effort was successful, and the resulting case, Anderson v. Laird, 466 F.2d 283 (D.C. Cir. 1972), has stood as a warning in the minds of many chaplains that the connection between religious faith and the military may one day be severed.
These same fears were awakened in 2001 when the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Virginia Military Institute on behalf of two former cadets who opposed a mandatory prayer before meals. The ACLU won the suit and immediately sent a letter warning the United States Naval Academy that it also must change its tradition of a mandatory prayer before lunch.
These efforts by the ACLU have moved several congressmen to propose a bill designed to protect prayer at the nation’s military academies. Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas have determined that the connection between faith and the training of warriors must not be severed.
“I find it incredibly ironic that liberal organizations like the ACLU are attempting to take away the very freedoms that these students are willing to go to war to protect,” Rep. Jones said.
Legal cases such as these leave many chaplains with the sense that they are living on borrowed time. “You have the ACLU and the military academy cases on the one hand,” a chaplain, who did not want to be named, complained, “and you have the fascination with faith that is thriving in American culture, particularly among the young, on the other hand.
“Chaplains are in the middle. What do you think they are going to do? They are going to do their job, but sometimes we aren’t sure where the First Amendment line is. This makes many of us hesitate to do the job we want to do: speak like prophets to men and women of God in a fight.”
They’re constantly on the prowl for easy prey in the church—typically widows, widowers, the recently divorced and the relationship-starved. The more money you have, the bigger a target you are. Here you’ll meet one such charlatan—Jane Smith. Her name and those of her victims have been changed, but her story is true.
While you observe examples of her well-practiced art of deception, you’ll also hear from Jeffrey P. Bjorck, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology, as well as Wayde Goodall, pastor of Winston-Salem (North Carolina) First Assembly of God.
From their expert perspectives, they will point out warning signs and red flags in Smith’s twisted behavior so that those who are a part of your ministries are less likely to become victims of Christian con artists. Smith’s whereabouts are unknown as of this writing. But for many years she traveled around the country—and around the world—earning a very comfortable living by ripping off unsuspecting Christians.
And not only men. Smith was able to seduce and lure women into her traps as well. She sometimes posed as a full-time, Third-World missionary, sometimes as a rich widow, sometimes as a worker for or follower of various Christian ministries—and always speaking familiar “Christian-ese,” and always expertly plucking on the heartstrings of her targets.
That’s how it began for one woman, Michelle, who met Smith on a flight to California in 2003. According to a Dallas Observer article from December 2004, Smith was dressed in musty, secondhand clothes, sported a medical boot on one foot and began a sweet, seductive chat with Michelle, outlining her experiences as a missionary in India.
Michelle was charmed by the slight-looking woman with the bright, dancing eyes. When the flight attendant asked if either of the women wanted some wine, Smith expressed immediate interest. “She hinted it in such a way that I had to pay for it from the get-go,” Michelle said.
As the two sipped their drinks, Michelle talked about her booming business in the Napa Valley area. That’s when Smith really turned on the charm. “She started with the light fluttering in her eyes, the touching, making intimate contact,” Michelle said. “It was warm, a tad bit flirtatious ... right from the beginning.”
Turns out that during their conversation, Smith revealed to Michelle that she felt led by God to settle in California—to find property where she could instruct young people from developing nations the process of organic farming.
What’s more, Smith told Michelle that before their flight she was praying with a woman in an airport chapel, and her prayer partner said she must get on their particular flight because she would meet someone “elemental” to her life. Then, to seal the deal, a pastor from out of nowhere bought Smith a ticket, positive he was performing a service for the Almighty.
Smith seemed so kind, so brave in her missionary adventures and so giving. And at that moment, Michelle found out how giving she could be, too. As the plane landed, Smith—without a dime on her person—launched a plea of sorts:
“You’ll pay for my room tonight, won’t you?”
Michelle was ill-prepared and had precious little time to mull over the matter. Of course—as with so many others before her—Michelle slipped Smith a handout. And the con was only just beginning.
Diane Jones is a California real-estate agent who has surprisingly sympathetic memories of Smith, despite a multimillion-dollar property transaction that went bad due to Smith misrepresenting her assets and forging official documents.
“Ah, Jane,” Jones sighs, in a recent interview with Ministries Today. “She was obviously a sociopath and suffered from some kind of a mental illness, but she was also amazingly charismatic. She was quite convincing, very bright and did a brilliant job studying human nature.
“She was a joyous person who praised the Lord. She mentioned God at every turn, and when someone’s telling you that and has it down pat, it’s completely disarming. I can’t replay the situation in my mind and see anything I did wrong. I loved that woman—whoever she was pretending to be.”
Turn back the clock a bit—to 2000. Smith set her sights on a two-week conference in Colorado. That’s where she first held hands and prayed with James Dandridge, a career military officer from Texas, who was three years past a messy divorce and searching for direction in his life.
After the pair prayed, Dandridge learned that Smith had a pretty impressive spiritual résumé. “She said she’d just come back from a trip with a prominent female charismatic minister,” Dandridge told the Observer. Smith also offered that she was “mentored” by the minister herself.
Dandridge was enchanted by Smith—her gentle nature, her apparent spiritual depth. She was looking for a “Boaz” who desired an honest-to-goodness “Proverbs 31 wife”—an industrious housewife and helpmate as described in the Old Testament.
Soon, Dandridge was offering Smith money. “She had access to my credit cards early on,” he recalled. “It was a seduction.”
Not that Dandridge seemed to notice. Just three months later—and after Smith visited his hometown and met his friends from church—Dandridge asked Smith to marry him. “I thought God was having mercy on me and brought somebody to me to fulfill my destiny,” Dandridge said.
Soon money was flying all over the place. Dandridge lavished Smith with everything she wanted—including a lavish engagement ring and posh nuptials at a five-star hotel. The bill for the bash: in the neighborhood of $60,000.
But on their wedding night, the once bubbly Smith turned on Dandridge, and became hostile and indifferent. In a marriage that would last but four months, Dandridge and Smith never consummated it. “Within 24 hours,” he recalled, “she’d turned into a witch.”
When they married, Dandridge had no debt and owned lucrative property and possessions, but he would eventually lose it all. This “Proverbs 31” wife hocked her engagement ring to buy a bigger diamond, milking her “Boaz husband” for yet another $15,000, and racked up the credit card bills with first-class air travel, designer clothes and frequent massages.
By the time Christmas rolled around, Dandridge felt like a prisoner in his own home—trapped there with a critical, psychologically abusive mate who, just a few months earlier, was so much the answer to all of his prayers.
“She was so deceptive and dominating,” he recalls. “It was like witchcraft. The whole thing was a nightmare. She seemed to manifest different personalities. I know she’s demon-possessed.”
Smith simply vanished by the start of the new year. Dandridge’s new SUV was gone, too, along with his safety net of gold coins. He had to pawn his wedding ring to get money for the barest of essentials. After filing for an annulment, Dandridge started getting phone calls from bill collectors.
Turns out Smith charged up $100,000 on credit cards and used a host of different Social Security numbers. Their annulment came through almost a year after he had first prayed with the woman who flashed her seductive eyes at him. Dandridge had no choice but to sell his house to pay off the debts.
“She pretty much cleaned me out,” he told the Observer. “She’s one scary lady.”
Daniel Crane met Smith at a revival meeting in a megachurch just outside Atlanta in the summer of 2003. Like Smith’s other victims, Crane was looking for something deep in his life after the death of one of his children, a difficult divorce and business difficulties. Smith pumped him up with words of knowledge—especially that he would soon embark on a “seven-year season of prosperity.”
Then the flirting started. Smith told Crane how much she liked his eyes, handsome features and well-conditioned body. “Her eyes would just dance,” Crane recalled. “She’d squeeze my hands. Her ability to know how to push and how to pull back was faultless.”
After the tête-à-tête, Crane saw Smith moving in for what he thought was a typical “church hug. Instead, “She reaches in to kiss me on the mouth and presses herself full-frontal on me,” Crane said. “But it was quick, graceful and soft. It was surprising to me, but very elegant and very appealing.”
When Smith expressed her desire to meet Crane’s children, he invited her home that day. There Smith told him of her unhappy living situation—her roommate was a con artist. “Deceitful” was the word Smith used to describe her—and, by the way, could she stay at his house for just one night?
A month later, and Smith hadn’t yet left—in fact, she was now running the show, insisting that Crane’s children address her as “Mommy.” While Crane required Smith to sleep on the couch, and while Smith wasn’t sexually aggressive, she said some very odd, suggestive things. To his shock, Crane overheard Smith conversing with strangers that she was his wife.
After an ugly argument, Smith threw a phone at Crane’s chest and finally left for good.
Smith was later seen in a California homeless shelter with a Bible on her lap. The next day, she vanished again. Her last known sighting came courtesy of a diner waitress who watched Smith befriend a kindly couple … who offered to give her a ride to her next destination.
Parsley’s TV program, Breakthrough, is broadcast to 96 percent of the nation twice a day, six days a week. Before the summer of 2004, Parsley often attacked the evils of partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and genocide in Sudan from the familiar confines of his pulpit at World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in July, he founded The Center for Moral Clarity, cleared his fall schedule of previously booked speaking engagements and embarked on a tour of major U.S. cities—many in states that decided the 2000 election and were considered critical in 2004.
His goal? To awaken the American church to a crisis of moral values and to prod pew-warming believers to pray, vote and make their voices heard on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty and racism. Although Parsley was careful to couch his “Silent No More” tour in nonpartisan terms, his message was clear: “Vote for the candidate who will defend biblical values.”
The 2004 presidential election was decided by 59,388 voters in Parsley’s home state of Ohio in a race that was close, but definitively in favor of incumbent George W. Bush. And exit polls revealed that this Midwestern pastor wasn’t the only one concerned about the moral climate of America. Political pundits on both sides of the ideological fence agree that it was religious leaders like Parsley who awakened voters to make a difference on Election Day.
Unsatisfied by what some may see as a political victory, Parsley recently wrote Silent No More, a book in which he researches and exposes the moral decay in every sector of society and challenges believers to invade secular culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Ministries Today spoke with Parsley about his role in the election, whether pastors should be able to endorse political candidates, and why abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only issues the church must confront.
Ministries Today: You’ve been primarily known as a revivalist. What was the turning point that moved you to take a stand in the 2004 election?
Rod Parsley: Through Breakthrough we had done some petitioning campaigns on issues like partial-birth abortion, the Sudan Peace Act, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. The response to those was overwhelming to us. So we knew there was a need here and something that people wanted us to speak to.
Then, I had the opportunity to be at the signing of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. There were two dozen people in the room with the president during that signing, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the representation of my generation in that room. Because everyone there was about 20 years my senior, I noticed that there was a gap in a national voice of my generation speaking out to moral issues.
So I founded the Center for Moral Clarity to address those critical moral issues that I felt were facing our nation. The center does that work through prayer, information and activism to shape our culture, grow healthy families and empower America’s moral base.
Ministries Today: Some people are hinting that the response to your Silent No More tour may have swung the election in Ohio—and, thus, the nation. Was the response bigger than you expected?
Parsley: I think we shined a light on—exposed something—that had been there all along. Even before the 2004 election I sensed that “values voters” were going to make a difference, and I could almost see a light of revelation in people’s eyes when I would address those issues in the pulpits.
These issues ne--eded to be spoken to regardless of who spoke out for them. A lot of mainstream America—who were not necessarily evan--gelical Christians, but people of many faiths or even people of no faith—have a strong moral basis. They more readily identify with our values than those of the liberal left. I think they realized there was a great cost of sitting on the sidelines while the political process went forward without them.
Ministries Today: Did you sense that you were changing people’s minds about who to vote for, or do you think you just stimulated values-voters, who may have stayed home November 2, to get to the polls?
Parsley: There’s a difference between changing people’s minds and encouraging them to act on what they already believe. I certainly never told anyone who to vote for because, unfortunately, that is illegal. But people of faith who know God’s Word and want to protect marriage and life will support amendments and candidates that define those issues for them.
Ministries Today: Have you had any contact with people at the White House responding to your tour?
Parsley: There were some encouraging responses beginning the very morning after the election with phone calls. I was honored to give the invocation for the president when he came to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and I was invited to the Inauguration and prayed at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. I’m sure that our efforts were recognized, but we’re grateful to this president for his leadership.
Ministries Today: Do you anticipate that legislation will be introduced within the coming years to muzzle pastors’ speech on issues such as homosexuality?
Parsley: Unfortunately, it’s already happening. In California, state Senator Sheila Kuehl sponsored a bill, SB 1234, that was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, which makes it illegal to speak out against homosexuality. Under that legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their biblical beliefs is intimidating and threatening to them. This is punishable by law now in the state of California, and the penalties include criminal prosecution and fines.
Here’s the staggering thing: fines up to $25,000 are awarded to the person who brings the accusation. All of this is modeled after Swedish and Canadian laws, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get HR 235 passed (see “Taking Off the Muzzle,” page 27). It will protect our preachers, clerics, bishops, priests and people of faith when they speak out on biblical truth about issues in their churches.
Ministries Today: How would you respond to people who say that pastors should not support specific candidates?
Parsley: Prior to 1954 those in houses of worship in America were free to speak out about any and every topic without any fear of government limitations or reprisals.
But when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for re-election in the United States Senate, there were 501(c)(3) corporations who were opposing his bid for re-election, so he had this language introduced to an IRS bill. It was never voted on; it never came up in committee; it was never put before the American people or their elected officials in any way, but it became part of the IRS tax code.
I don’t think that Lyndon Johnson intended to target churches, because it wasn’t churches that were targeting him. However, since churches are 501(c)(3) organizations, we lost our First Amendment right of free speech.
What the First Amendment does clearly state is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.” HR 235 simply aims to restore the First Amendment rights of religious leaders, so that’s why we’ve got to see it get passed.
Ministries Today: What’s the biggest misconception church leaders have about “separation of church and state”?
Parsley: The only constitution that “separation of church and state” ever appeared in was the constitution of the former Soviet Union. I don’t think that’s one we want to follow.
That whole misunderstanding regarding “separation of church and state” came about in 1947 when Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, in Everson vs. Board of Education, asserted that the First Amendment made a separation between the church and state that should remain impregnable and so forth.
The only problem is, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not in the Bill of Rights, and we have to see to it that our spiritual leaders are able to fulfill their responsibility to speak out on issues that are central to the faith of our people.
Ministries Today: In your book Silent No More, you argue that the church should take a stand on issues such as poverty and racial discrimination. How important are these compared to abortion and gay marriage?
Parsley: One of the major reasons that I wrote this book was to take issues that traditionally belong to the left and commend them to the right, and to take issues that traditionally belong to the right and commend them to the left.
I’m passionate about advancing the biblical vision of the founding fathers, and I think it’s important to speak out on all the issues of righteousness and of justice. I think for too long we have polarized ourselves, and these divisions fall many times along denominational lines, along racial lines and certainly across political lines that separate God’s people.
If folks are going to read this book and think they’re just going to hear another rant about abortion or other typically right-wing issues, they don’t know me. Those issues will be spoken to, but I can’t be silent either as long as one out of six of our children is going to bed hungry every night. I can’t be silent when 78 cents on the dollar is all a woman earns compared to her male counterpart on the same job.
As we speak out on these issues, what will happen is exactly what we saw happen with the marriage issue: It was the greatest rallying cry for the body of Christ of my lifetime, because it tore down the walls of race, theology and political ideology, and we were able to come together in a point of real agreement.
Ministries Today: Have you been able to build bridges with liberals because of your stand on racial issues?
Parsley: Many in the African-American community have become tremendous friends--not that they weren’t before. But they appreciate hearing someone that may be traditionally viewed as a far right-wing conservative speaking out on issues that are central to them as believers as well. I think we’re seeing the groundswell that the devil and world both are going to have to deal with.
Ministries Today: You have a large African-American contingency in your own church. What happened with the sought-after “black vote” in the 2004 election?
Parsley: Ethnic believers moved from 7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2004 nationally, voting for Bush. In Ohio, I believe it was even higher than that. It’s obvious that there were African Americans who said, “We can’t vote for a president who believes that marriage between two homosexuals or two lesbians should be the law of the land.”
Lights also began to go on in the area of abortion, partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The lines are just getting too broad, and the distinction is becoming too apparent between these two political ideologies. My hope is that there will be democratic leadership that will stand up and begin to speak out on the issues of morality again.
Historically they have done that. For many years they have focused more on social-justice issues, and I think they are understanding that the mainstream still has the solid moral base and foundation. I believe there are those among the democratic leadership who do have strong moral convictions.
There are also those in the Republican Party who don’t support bans on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. What I’m hoping is that individuals from both ends of the political spectrum will begin to take a stand for these moral issues.
Ministries Today: Have you received much criticism from black Christian leaders about your position?
Parsley: I haven’t had any negative input at all. In fact, more African-American leaders have reached out for me to help them take a stand on these moral issues. I think they have appreciated my leadership in that regard and even more so as they read Silent No More and understand that I’m speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.
Ministries Today: Is it possible to have people in government concerned with moral values and still have a morally bankrupt society?
We must have these three things to initiate national revival: First, we must have a priest. We have that in Jesus, a high priest in His office. Second, we’ve got to have a king or a political system that will do that which is right in the eyes of God. Third, we’ve got to have a prophetic voice that will declare “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation. When we have all those three things functioning together we have the best opportunity for national revival.
Ministries Today: Should the government make laws against the behavior of consenting adults (e.g. sodomy)?
Parsley: The government makes laws about behavior or morality all the time. All legislation reflects morality. I want Christians to be a part of the discussion about whose morality the legislation will reflect.
Should we allow murder and theft, or marriage between three or four consenting adults? Everybody knows that’s not good for society, so legislatures must make laws against such behavior.
Ministries Today: Detroit pastor Keith Butler is planning to run for U.S. Senate. Have you ever considered a political career?
Parsley: I’ve met many fine men and women of faith and consider their work in government as ministry. But here’s the thing: Men and women will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on the words of a gospel preacher, and I don’t believe there’s a higher calling than that. Right now that’s what the Lord has me doing and I’m very privileged to be doing it.
Ministries Today: Do you think that there may be a need for some men or women out there who right now are preaching to shift into a political calling?
Parsley: Certainly in this hour God is putting His hand on individuals that may have been involved in ministry in any of the fivefold office gifts to become more of an active part of the political process, and that may mean that they become involved in running for an office and in fulfilling that office.
Ministries Today: Have you received any threats because of your political involvement throughout the campaign?
Parsley: Of course, we’re always threatened by those who are motivated by the wrong spirit, and that’s been a part of ministry life for many years for me. We just go on about our work and know that he that dwells in the secret place of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
The word "calling" in the New Testament is used in several ways. But what I am referring to here is "career calling," God's plan for your life. Some of us discover much later, long after we have been converted, what God is going to do with our lives. Some also find that they are not happy with what God is planning in their lives, because it isn't happening like they thought it would happen.
To Peter and Andrew, Jesus said, " 'Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men'" (Matt. 4:19, NIV). Peter had been a fisherman, and God called him to be a soul-winner. It was not something that Peter had wanted.
There is also a close connection between our natural gifts and God's calling for life, or career calling. We all have gifts, but they are not all used in the same way (see 1 Cor. 12:14-20).
Some people might want to be the head or the eye, but they are only the foot or the hand, figuratively speaking, and they get frustrated. They want to be in a high-profile position in the church. They say, "God, why can't I be up front where people will see me?"
God says: "Sorry, you are to be like the small intestines or the pancreas. You are like those organs in the body that aren't seen but are very necessary" (see 1 Cor. 12:22-24).
There are those who want to be behind the scenes, and if you gave them their choice, they would rather be the "liver" or the "kidneys" or the "lungs" where they are not seen. But God instead makes them be the eye, the ear or the head. It is an unwanted calling. It is when God's plans overrule yours. It is when you have been kept from doing what you wanted to do, and it's frustrating to you.
To be converted is one thing, but when you are subsequently called to do or be something that you hadn't wanted to do or be, that's quite another.
As for your education, it all seems to have gone down the drain. You went to the university to study a specialized field, and now look at what you do for a living!
When it comes to where God has placed you, you may feel overqualified and frustrated, or you may feel underqualified and frustrated. Maybe you work with people with whom you never would have chosen as co-workers. Maybe you are in a place you never would have chosen to work.
Could this be a thorn in the flesh? Yes! You have never been happy over the years with the work you have had to do, the workplace, or your co-workers. It's not even work that you were trained to do. It is not what you had planned to do, and over the years you have kept thinking this must be going to change: I'm not always going to be doing this!
But then the years go by, and you are still doing this work. I'm not always going to have to be with these people!, you say to yourself. Years go by, and you're still with them, and you keep thinking, It will end! But it hasn't yet. God has led you to where you are, but inwardly you think: Surely there must be something better in life for me than this. Is this it? Is this all there is?
Life is passing you by. You grew up looking forward to becoming maybe a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe you wanted to become a nurse or a computer programmer. It seems that nothing has gone according to your plan.
Could this have been Paul's thorn in the flesh? I believe that it could have been. After all, after he became a Christian he had to work with his hands and with a people whom he had been brought up to believe were second class: Gentiles. Had he managed to do what he wanted to do, he would have been able to work with his own people. Do you know, as long as he lived, he never got over that? (See Rom. 9:1-5.)
I wonder how many people are afraid of becoming Christians because they fear that the moment they become Christians God is going to send them to some far-flung place.
To us, it just doesn't add up. All of his life Paul was looking over his shoulder, trying to reach Jews at every opportunity. He said, "The gospel is to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16), and I can tell you, every chance he had, he was talking to a Jew. I am quite convinced this is what eventually got him into real trouble.
There is little doubt in my mind that when those people came to him and said, "Don't go to Jerusalem," they were led of the Spirit (see Acts 21:411). Luke says, "By the Spirit they said, 'Don't go.'" Paul said, "I'm going!" He kept thinking that one day, somehow, he was going to convert the Jews. When he went to Jerusalem, it was a big disaster. It didn't happen.
Maybe that's you. You are still hoping somehow to do something else. You say, "I am not going to do this all my life!" You try to do what God won't let you do, and it just doesn't happen. Paul's lasting success was with the very people he had grown up to think very little of. It was an unwanted calling.
I met a Harvard man who became one of David Brainerd's biographers. Had Brainerd lived, he would have been Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law, but he died at the age of 29. Edwards went on to publish Brainerd's journal and that journal was once said to have inspired more people to be missionaries than any body of literature next to the Bible.
After the biographer relayed this story, he said something I was not prepared for: "David Brainerd did not really like the Indians that he had to witness to in New York state. He actually couldn't stand them!" Yet here was this godly man who became a legend because of his ministry to the American Indians.
Take an unwanted calling as to secular involvement. You took certain subjects at school and later concentrated on a certain field. Perhaps you studied law, French or medicine.
Then when it came to finding a job, no jobs were available in the area of your preparation or training. Perhaps you learned Chinese, and now you are working as a secretary.
You studied philosophy or theology, and you are working as a taxi driver. You went to a university and graduated, and now you are working as a salesperson in a department store.
Perhaps you felt called to be a foreign missionary, and you are still living and working in your own country. Or, maybe you have to do a kind of Christian work as plan B--waiting for that more fulfilling opportunity.
One must take into consideration the providence of an unwanted calling. Perhaps God has given you a mission you didn't ask for. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going" (Heb. 11:8).
How's that for trying to impress your friends?
"What are you up to, Abraham?"
"What do you mean, 'not sure'? What's happening in your life?"
"Well, I am obeying God!"
"Where are you going?"
That was it. In fact, "the Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1). What kind of a mission is that? Yet Abraham became one of the greatest men in all history. He is known as the father of the faithful. He had no idea what it would lead to.
Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
Do you feel that life is passing you by although you have kept your eyes on the Lord? He has led you from one place to the next, and you recognize His leading, but you think to yourself, This is not what I had in mind! But it is not over yet! There was a lot for Abraham to discover.
What if, like Jonah, you are given a mandate you didn't ask for? The same Jonah who prayed he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh now prayed, "O God, please let me go!" It is amazing how God can get our attention. The very thing you said no to is the very thing you end up praying for!
He was given a message he hadn't wanted to deliver. God may give you a word you have to preach. It is not what you wanted to preach, but you do it because He tells you to.
There is great potential in an unwanted calling. It refers to what you are capable of becoming. God sees what you are capable of becoming and saying. If you could always do only what you wanted to do, you would never know your full potential in other areas.
Your potential is what God sees, but you can't. God can see a potential in you that you can't see, so He leads you in a way, which, at first, doesn't seem to make sense.
Consider Daniel, whose captivity allowed him to be used in giftings that otherwise would never have been discovered.
The way we have been led we cannot understand at the time, but time shows there is purpose and meaning in it all. So it is with you. God knows your potential, and it may seem wasted at first, but one day you will see a reason for all that you have learned and the explanation for all your training.
What if you even sacrifice that career?
What is the purpose of an unwanted calling? It is the reason for the thorn in the flesh in the first place. God directed you differently from what you wanted in order to give you the usefulness and intimacy with Him you would not have otherwise experienced. If you are like me, then you would have been too proud had you gotten what you wanted.
God's purpose is twofold. First, everything that He does in our lives is geared for one purpose: to know the Lord (see Phil. 3:10). I find it very interesting that Philippians was written after Paul had that disaster by going to Jerusalem (see Acts 2126).
Nothing happened as he had hoped, and he alludes to it in Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
The Philippians were worried about him, but he says, "As for what happened to me, it doesn't matter; it hasn't hurt the gospel." It is as though he says, "I may not be in good shape in some ways, but it advanced the gospel."
That is what it is all for. God doesn't care whether I am seen as a great success. He cares about one thing, and that is that I get to know His Son. He says, "R.T., I am sorry about having to disappoint you in some things, but there is only one way that you are going to get to know My Son, and that is to put you through all this."
Everything that has happened to us--whether it be an unwanted calling, living in unhappy conditions, working with people we don't want to, studying in a specialized field only to have a career doing the opposite--is because God wants us to know His Son.
The potential that you have for intimacy with God would never be discovered if you got to do what you wanted to do. If you had the success you wanted, you wouldn't be teachable. God knows where to keep us. So when we get to the place where we say, "I just want to know Him," God says, "Good."
But there is another purpose, and it is this: that we might have a reward at the judgment seat of Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
In other words, the thorn of an unwanted calling is the best thing that could have happened to any of us. We all need a thorn to save us from ourselves, and Paul could say at the end of the day, "It is worth it all!" *
As a church grows and broadens its ministry, the pastor must begin to view his role not only as a shepherd but also as a rancher. As a church expands its reach to meet the needs of different groups of people, the senior pastor must be willing to allow others to shepherd those distinct groups. As a rancher, he helps set the direction for all these shepherds so the entire flock can embrace a like vision and operate in unity.
In order for a church to reach its community today, one must be willing to explore innovative ways to communicate to people who are receiving information, inspiration and motivation differently than they did just a few years ago.
Each year, when thousands of pastors and leaders gather at our Pastors' School, we emphasize that the method is not sacred--the message is. As long as we maintain the integrity of the good news of Christ, we can be--and we must be--innovative in the way we present the message so that it is relevant to people's lives.
Ultimately, there are two priorities set before the pastor as his holy charge. They are eternal and must be at the forefront of what he does: the Word of God and people. Everything else will pass away, but the Word of God will remain. And an emphasis on people and their everlasting souls will help keep the pastor focused, and limit distractions such as buildings and programs, which--albeit important--must not become the main focus in ministry.
If the pastor, or a rancher, if you will, has these priorities in mind and heart, it will be easier for him to reach the community with new methods, but with the same message of the love of God.
Numerous studies have shown that one of the primary barriers to churches reaching unchurched people in their communities is that many people feel churches are not relevant to their lives.
I have always felt that the church should be on the cutting
edge in the ways that it reaches out to people. Fifty years ago, using props and dramatic presentations while presenting illustrated sermons was considered practically heretical. Realizing that our society is becoming more and more visually oriented and less literary, we have to bring the message of Christ to people in a manner that makes sense to them.
Similarily, when we removed the hymnals from the pews at Phoenix First and replaced them with two large projection screens, many thought that a sacred element of worship had been replaced by some sterile technology. Instead, the worship experience has been enhanced with the use of technology that makes the message relevant to people.
A pastor must examine the church and its ministries, its facilities and, ultimately, himself to see that the love of God is being effectively communicated to people in a way that makes sense in the postmodern context.
A pastor should be willing to risk utilizing cultural innovations in order to spread the gospel. For example, we often capitalize on the marketing efforts that are capturing the attention of millions of people in order for those same people to hear our message.
We recently advertised an illustrated sermon titled "American Idols," complete with a vocal contest, and unchurched people from all over the community came. When the message was presented that idolatry and the pursuit of fame leaves people with a hollow emptiness that only Jesus Christ can fill, more than 1,000 people came to the altars to give their hearts to the Lord.
We've built new high-tech buildings for youth and children, a "Youth Walk" hangout for teens and a cafe in order to create an environment where we can reach the next generation. Young people who might not otherwise come to church are affected by the message to such an extent that many of them don't want services to end as they continue to seek the Lord.
If the pastor is a CEO as some church leadership experts claim, then perhaps some reinventing--as the corporate world would call it--is in order. When companies reinvent, they strengthen their identities and visions while increasing the scope of their outreach.
Without compromising the enduring values of salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the second coming, we must create innovative means of communicating these truths to a generation that is biblically illiterate.
One of the ways that we as pastors can examine our churches' relevance in our communities is to see if our churches represent the people that we are trying to reach in our weekly attendance. If not, we must be willing to take the risk of reinventing ourselves in order to reach a lost and dying world for Christ. *